cultural capital

Life Without Tower?


A night at Tower, September 1991.Photo: Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Tower Records — founded in 1960 in L.A. and a fixture on the corner of Lafayette Street and East Fourth since 1984 — announced last week that it had been purchased out of bankruptcy by a liquidator and would soon be closing all its stores. Jada Yuan and Sara Cardace asked New York music people for their memories.

Keith Richards used to live upstairs, directly above Tower Records, so he was always outside there late at night walking his dog. I knew people who would run into him late at night. There’d be nobody around, and you’d see this guy with his dog and you’d go, ‘Isn’t that Keith?’ And you’d walk up and talk to him, and you wouldn’t be able to understand a word he was saying. It was very strange. The store itself, I’m not sure it’s going to be missed. It’s not like CBGB. It wasn’t a cultural phenomenon. It was a store. They sold things.”
Kurt Loder

The first Tower I ever saw was the L.A. store, which was really the flagship place to announce your new record. If you could get a painting in the window, it gave such a sense of arrival. In the mid-eighties when I was putting out my solo album, seeing it in the window, even seeing it in the bins was a really exciting thing. I’m sorry to see them go.”
Lenny Kaye, guitarist

At the time it opened, the same people who listened to Perry Como were listening to the early rock-and roll stuff, too. You could walk into Tower, and say I want a new Elvis album and some guy would say, ‘Here’s the new Ricky Nelson. You’ll like it.’”
Kenny Laguna, Blackheart Records president

When we started Knitting Factory Records, I would beg them to issue payments to us for the product that was on consignment. It usually required me to invite a few members of the staff over for beers to get them to do it, but I eventually got payment for product, depending on how drunk I got them, in advance of sale. I guess we are part of reason they went out of business, but it was only $150 bucks or so. And from 1992.”
Michael Dorf, Knitting Factory founder

They were the Wal-Mart of the music business. They came in with this gigantic selection at really low prices, with sales every two or three days. And that lasted about a year, just about enough time to put every little record store within a ten-block radius out of business. Then of course, the prices went right back up, no more sales, and the stock became incredibly depleted. It became like a bad supermarket that only sold food that had no nutrients. It was just a complete shithole. I went across the street to Other Music to get my stuff when I wanted to go to a record store.”
Glenn Branca, avant-garde composer, key figure in New York’s late-seventies No Wave scene, and early mentor of Sonic Youth

I remember going to Tower in the eighties, and it felt like the coolest place on the planet. Saturdays in Tower were rammed with people, and there were fifteen-minute waits just to get to the cash register. But then post-CD-burning and downloading, you’d go into Tower on a Saturday and see a few forlorn employees and tumbleweeds blowing by the dust-covered CDs. Sad.”

Life Without Tower?